How One Organization Is Helping Skilled Refugees Bridge the Labor Gap

WERC Staff - May 13 2024
Published in: Mobility
| Updated May 13 2024
As the world grapples to meet the complexities of supporting a growing population of displaced skilled workers, one organization seeks to bridge this gap: Talent Beyond Boundaries.

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), by mid-2023 there were a reported 36.4 million refugees globally, up 3% from the previous year. Within this population are skilled individuals seeking jobs to provide for themselves and their families, all while navigating the challenges of being far from home and its comforts. As the world grapples to meet the complexities of supporting a growing population of displaced skilled workers, one organization seeks to bridge this gap. 

In 2016, John Cameron crossed paths with an accomplished refugee displaced by the Syrian civil war. It was during this meeting he witnessed firsthand the difficulties refugees faced in using their skills after displacement. He saw potential for an online jobs market created specifically for this population. Simultaneously, U.S. attorneys Mary Louise Cohen and Bruce Cohen were working on a similar idea. The three joined forces, and Talent Beyond Boundaries was created.

“Talent Beyond Boundaries recognized there was a critical gap in the global migration system: millions of displaced people possess valuable skills and experience, yet they face significant barriers to opportunities abroad due to their status,” says Hannah Somers, U.S. program manager at Talent Beyond Boundaries. “Talent Beyond Boundaries pioneered this approach to connect skilled refugees with global labor markets, offering a solution that benefits individuals, employers, and host communities alike.”

Repairing a Challenged System 

Unfortunately, refugee status does not automatically provide the ability to work in a host country. Individuals must be approved for a work permit, which can be costly and challenging. Many are left hanging in the balance, unable to work legally despite wanting to contribute to their host communities. As an added layer of complexity, a lack of permanent status can lead refugees to be forced out of work or move beyond the scope of local labor laws. 

In an effort to mend an ailing system, Talent Beyond Boundaries works with governments, private sector entities, impacted communities, and refugee-serving organizations to open up safe pathways for skilled refugees. “By engaging these diverse partners, Talent Beyond Boundaries aims to support refugees in every step of their labor mobility journey,” Somers says.

“Organizations such as Talent Beyond Boundaries are critical in the overall mobility ecosystem, connecting refugees with identified skills shortages in the labor market,” adds Azmina Aboobaker, director of U.S. and global migration at Meta and chair of WERC’s Immigration Policy Forum. “They are able to partner effectively with governments and the private sector to facilitate refugee migration via skilled migration pathways.” 

No step in the process is left untouched, and it really does take a village. Private sector entities commit resources to hire candidates, while refugee-serving organizations and impacted communities collaborate with Talent Beyond Boundaries to provide capacity-building resources, increasing the competitiveness of refugees in the labor market. Partnering law firms provide immigration services to candidates at a significantly reduced rate, while governments and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) work with Talent Beyond Boundaries to change immigration systems and mitigate the barriers refugees typically face.

“This approach not only empowers individuals by providing them a new home where they can work with legal status but also gives them … the ability to rebuild their lives with dignity and purpose,” Somers says. 
Talent Beyond Boundaries’ work has seen global success, becoming trusted partners with United Nations bodies, as well as governments in Canda, Australia, and the U.K. In Europe, the organization collaborates with the International Organization for Migration. In the U.S., the organization’s advocacy work has led to changes in the country’s employment visa process to accommodate refugees and stateless people. 

“Collaboration is at the heart of Talent Beyond Boundaries’ strategy. The organization believes in the power of partnership to amplify impact, supporting governments, and other entities in replicating and expanding upon our work,” Somers says. “Through shared learning and collective action, Talent Beyond Boundaries and its partners are building a global movement that recognizes the value of skilled migration for displaced individuals. Given the wide scale of the refugee crisis globally, the labor mobility ecosystem must grow to accommodate the growing need for displaced talent.” 

Shining a Light on Quality Talent 

One of Talent Beyond Boundaries’ key offerings is the Talent Catalog, featuring over 105,000 skilled workers. Refugees may register for this catalog if they meet certain basic criteria—namely, that they are a refugee and do not have another solution to resolve their displacement. 

Once in the catalog, a refugee may be matched for hiring. Talent Beyond Boundaries prioritizes placement based on a number of factors but primarily on the needs of the individual employers that partner with the organization. Somers notes that the Talent Catalog is a crucial tool in helping match candidates with opportunities that best suit qualifications and needs. 

Educating their partners also plays an important role in helping Talent Beyond Boundaries continue their mission. “We navigate the complexities of international recruitment and visa systems by working closely with governments and legal partners,” Somers says. “A part of our work is education. Highlighting that an untapped talent pool of refugees exists creates advocates who help us work to change the systems to support them better. By advocating for policy adjustments and providing support throughout the visa application process, we ensure that skilled refugees can access employment opportunities abroad, overcoming traditional barriers associated with their status. This advocacy work has led to significant changes to immigration policies impacting refugees in a variety of countries.” 

Rethinking Global Mobility and Talent 

Skilled individuals move around the world to work for companies in need of qualified talent every day. Aaron Blumberg, partner at Fragomen, wants to know why refugees are traditionally missing from this equation. 
“Why have refugees been left out of global mobility, even when they possess skills and experience that are in demand by employers?” he asks. “Talent Beyond Boundaries identified a gap in the global migration system—a gap that prevented employers from accessing much needed talent and that prevented refugees from finding these opportunities.”

In today’s global workforce, especially one that can prioritize talent anywhere, Blumberg believes employers should not be bound to search locally or only for those with stable immigration status. “Employers should be free to consider the best candidates in the world, regardless of their personal situation,” he says. “As declared by the United Nations, everyone, refugee or not, has the right to work and the right to choose their employer. Just because an individual happens to be born in a war torn county does not mean that they should lose the right to work.”

While the work of Talent Beyond Boundaries is admirable and tries to level the playing field, it should not be confused with charity. “We’re asking that employers simply consider refugees alongside everyone else when evaluating a candidate,” Blumberg says. “We are not asking employers to hire someone specifically. We want them to hire the best candidate, the one who is most qualified and best fit for that organization.” 

Employers have wide variety of recruitment tools available to them, from LinkedIn, to recruiting firms, career fairs, and more. Blumberg simply asks that those in a position to hire consider adding Talent Beyond Boundaries’ Talent Catalog to their list of resources when seeking their next candidate.

While the refugee crisis worsens, employers continue to seek skilled talent. “It’s a perfect time to [engage with a] program that matches refugees with employers,” Blumberg says, hopeful for the future. “Looking ahead, we will hopefully reach a point where an organization like Talent Beyond Boundaries is not even needed because employers will naturally look for talent all over the world. Whether someone is a refugee or not will make no difference.”